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We’d do a “your mom” strapline, but honestly with Christine here it’s a bit weird

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

13 Comments

  1. Matt Marshall
    August 6, 2015 @ 11:04 pm

    I think I can forgive the genocide plan (wow, what a statement!!) on the grounds that the Borg weren't considered 'alive' per se, more like some sort of out of control evil computer, which you'd happily nobble with a virus any day of the week. Of course they back out of their plan as Hugh's emerging personality convinces them that the Borg is in itself a unique entity… only it doesn't, as they are convinced when Hugh starts acting like them rather than the Borg, which comes uncomfortably close to "this foreign culture has no value unless it starts acting like us". The crew are then excited because maybe Hugh can Westernise all the Borg and bring them closer to the American humanistic individual idyll rather than the Borg's own unique culture.

    Okay, yes the Borg go around actively enslaving people, but we don't know if that's true of all Borg. In fact, at this point in the series wasn't assimilation limited to Picard alone and the idea still being that they were this unique race and it was technology they assimilated, not biomatter? When did the whole 'the Borg bolster their numbers by enslaving people' thing actually arise?

    (For the record I liked this episode, but there's some fridge logic stuff that makes me doubt myself there)

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  2. CorvusMeeki
    August 6, 2015 @ 11:31 pm

    I don't understand why you think the Enterprise crew arn't the establishment. To me it always seemed clear that the reason they could get away with talking back to Starfleet/the Federation was because they were high ranking within Starfleet/the Federation. To me they've always come across as the privileged, the self obsessed white Western 'explorers'.

    I mean…you've probably watched more of the show, so perhaps I'm missing something important. I got that impression of Star Trek after a handful of episodes across several seasons (I, Borg was one of them), so it's more than possible you've seen something in the canon I didn't. But this didn't seem out of character to me at all, or against the show's ethos. It's…..it comes across to me as a vision of human unity brought about by destroying everything that isn't a particular sort of Western culture. Of course they'd commit genocide.

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  3. Froborr
    August 7, 2015 @ 5:39 am

    The mass-assimilation thing really started with First Contact, and the decision to make the Borg into zombies. Even there it's explicable as an emergency measure to facilitate taking over the Enterprise after their own ship was destroyed–it's not until Voyager until you get assimilating entire species as the Borg's standard modus operandi.

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  4. Ross
    August 7, 2015 @ 5:48 am

    I would think that the Borg Queen in First Contact espouses some philosophy that counterindicates the "emergency measure" interpretation even if the plot itself allows for it.

    Though it's also interesting to recall that the attempted assimilation of Data in FC is treated as the Borg Queen trying something special and new and extra-super-duplicitious, since normally, Data, being non-organic, would be uninteresting to the Borg (Itself a callback to a line in BoBW where Locutus declares Data obsolete.)

    Isn't there a scene with Locutus in Best of Both Worlds looking over the crew in turn and declaring how each of them would be assimilated?

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  5. K. Jones
    August 7, 2015 @ 10:22 am

    This is an episode that links strongly to might-have-beens for me. It's pure hypothetical stuff, but I always felt like if there was a missed opportunity during "The Best of Both Worlds" to actually shake the status quo, and give us a Riker Enterprise, and a post-Picard crew, then "I, Borg" would have been the right kind of storyline for the eventual rescue of Picard. I mean imagine the pathos and the inner acting of the core cast if instead of some random Borg, the Borg they rescue is Locutus. Imagine if Guinan's pep-talk to Riker about "getting over Picard" really took, and he and Worf are pretty personally invested in an alpha-strike against the Borg Collective and Beverly and Geordi have to convince Riker, still full of ghosts about his responsibility and failing to save Picard, that this Locutus is glitching, is re-understanding individuality, and we get to see Patrick Stewart's take on the reassertion of individuality over the collective. And so eventually, Beverly & Geordi have to convince the Riker/Worf bromance to get over their own guilt, ghosts, and in doing so, they all get their Picard back.

    Guinan's hard line would mean more if Picard had been taken from them as well. A story where Deanna and Data are kind of caught in the middle of opposing forces from Riker/Worf and Beverly/Geordi would be a fascinating angle to play. And of course we'd presumably have like, Shelby as a wild-card, were this the case.

    Anyway, instead we get Hugh. We get a Pet Borg for the Enterprise. And we get some pretty uncharacteristic behavior. But anyway, Gates McFadden and LaVar Burton are awesome here.

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  6. Jack Graham
    August 8, 2015 @ 3:43 am

    SF things about the morality of genocide are particularly useless, I think, since it's only in SF/Fantasy that you can even conceptualise such a thing as justfiable genocide, i.e. if you're facing species annihilation at the hands of a an inhuman race with no free will and no redeeming features. In the real world, 'justfiable genocide' isn't a thing, not even potentially or conceptually.

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  7. K. Jones
    August 8, 2015 @ 9:32 am

    True, true. Typically even Tolkien's orcs – an entire race generated to be villified, created by the most crass evil straw man of all – are ultimately all depicted as victims. Victims of callow, envious divine figures tampering with their species by way of eugenics. Because as soon as you start asking questions. Who are they? How did they come to be? You've defeated the intention of "purity of villainy".

    The notion of The Borg as "created to be hated" was going to last about as long as it took for "Both Worlds, Part 2" to end and for somebody to be like, "well, what's the next Borg story?" Ultimately, they're all victims, too. Victims of a programmer who programmed a program so long ago that the Galaxy itself has forgotten whodunnit.

    Of course, tangentially I'd like to say that in my head-canon, it was the El-Aurians who programmed The Borg's original incarnation, before it was a spacefaring-race-assimilator. Essentially before those brain-bugs from Season 1 hijacked the technology with their pure hive-consumer ethos.

    As for the rest of Guinan's ethics here, I mean, I like Guinan more than 3/4 of the core cast, but I've been questioning her ethics all along as she manipulates space-time itself with her witchery hocus pocus.

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  8. K. Jones
    August 8, 2015 @ 9:37 am

    (The straw man is Morgoth, BTW, not Tolkien. Tolkien after all didn't create "orcs" as a concept, he just borrowed them. He was an avid sub-creator.)

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  9. John Biles
    August 9, 2015 @ 8:38 am

    You are missing something important. Star Trek doesn't always live up to its ideals, but the ideal of Star Trek has always been, as Kirk puts it in Arena, that while humans are often killers, "We're not going to kill today." A recognition of our flaws, and an effort to overcome them. War is sometimes necessary but it's always a waste of lives, even when you can't talk your way out of it. The whole point of the prime directive is to try to prevent the forced imposition of Federation culture on pre-Warp societies, though TOS is reallllly inconsistent about it.

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  10. CorvusMeeki
    August 9, 2015 @ 10:27 pm

    I think there's an inconsistency between what it states as it's ideals and what it shows. I feel like what you expressed is the show's stated ideals rather than what I see. I'm going to try and explain but I'm not sure how successful I'll be here-

    It is supposed to be a vision of a united future Earth right? Why is it so white and so male? Does Federation/Earth culture in the show not seem static and homogenous to you? And why is the culture so biased towards Western Europe? The majority of the world (four billion) is Asian, so why are there so few Asians in Starfleet and no visible influence of Asian cultures on the Federation? Where are the turbans and the headscarves? Where are the people I grew up around? I'm not even really talking about main characters here, the extras and the background factor into this as well. Even in the most recent Star Trek movie there are no human background characters in anything other than Western dress and no symbols of other religions. In London, one of the most multicultural cities on the planet.

    So I looked at that, across all the series, and I wondered what had happened to them. And it makes me think of 'Lord' Lytton's famine and the Mau Mau, Haiti, the Congo, the Herero and Nama peoples. Because-

    Down the road from my father's house back home, once you get away from the area tourists go there's a village. There are no roofs on any of the buildings, no doors or windows and a lot of the walls have been pulled down. But you can tell these were houses. People lived there. It was a Turkish village. There arn't any Turkish people in that part of the country any more.

    There's this….gap I see in Trek, a human one. I can't help comparing it to something like Transmetropolitan- another vision of a future Earth. Transmet probably has more white people proportionally in the main cast but the background shots of the City are full of people of all races and you can see influences from all over the world in their clothing, and food and in throw away lines about things like throat singers jamming on street corners. Even something like Orion (German show, Vaka Rangi covered, worth watching) seems to go out of it's way to provide little details and human variation. Trek…doesn't.

    I have no idea how well I've communicated that and it is just my reading. I know it's not the reading the creators intended, but it's what I absorbed from a thousand little ques in their world. You're welcome to disagree, everybody sees different things in these sorts of shows. Trek makes me uncomfortable, it feels like a whole world that's been designated 'white space' (ie if you're anything else your presence must be justified). It feels, fundamentally, unwelcoming to someone culturally mixed, like me. I don't mean this to insult the show or to somehow say that you 'shouldn't' enjoy it. Just….this is what I see as problematic in it, and in my case it stops me from enjoying the show or seeing it as living up to it's stated ideals.

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  11. Ross
    August 10, 2015 @ 1:05 am

    Plus, of course, your "united future earths", even when they take a stab at racial diveristy tend to interpret "racism isn't a thing and all races are equal now" to mean "everyone acts like a middle-class late 20th century white man", as though any divergence from that particular set of cultural values is itself only the product of racism: when racism is finally over, these overwhelmingly white writers say, everyone, black, white and any other skin tone you care to mention, will wear polo shirts and pull their pants up and like film noir and classical music.

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  12. Froborr
    August 10, 2015 @ 6:05 am

    No, the line is how to most effectively kill each of them, and I can't remember if it's Locutus or Hugh that delivers it.

    It is entirely possible that the Borg Queen says something like that in First Contact. I pretty much instinctively tune out all the scenes with her in them, because they're godawful.

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  13. Daru
    August 31, 2015 @ 9:19 pm

    Aye jack, with you on this.

    The thing I always get about the Borg is that they are us, any of us turned into The Other, they are us trapped within the machinery of Capitalism, just turned into gun-fodder.

    For me that is an awful thought, that they are us, are there inside those machines.

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